MPs have today launched an inquiry into how the whiplash reforms are working, including the impact on the number of claims and whether they ensure access to justice.
The decision of the justice select committee is likely to be welcomed by claimant lawyers, who have consistently criticised the Official Injury Claim (OIC) portal both for its functionality and effect in reducing the number of claims brought.
In the last Parliament, the committee recommended in 2018 that the then small claims limit of £1,000 be increased by inflation to £1,500 and not the £5,000 proposed at the time by the government and then implemented.
The committee has issued a call for evidence. The terms of reference of the inquiry are to investigate:
- What effect have the measures introduced within the whiplash reform programme had on the number of minor personal injury claims to date?
- To what extent have these measures met the government’s objective of reducing the cost of whiplash claims to the economy; and to what extent are any savings being passed on to motorists through lower insurance premiums?
- What have been the effects of raising the small claims track limit from £1,000 to £5,000; the ban on settling whiplash claims without medical evidence; and the fixed tariff of compensation for whiplash injuries that last up to two years?
- Why most claimants continue to use legal representation when using the online portal (90% since its launch)?
- Whether the OIC portal is accessible and easy-to-use for claimants and/or their legal representatives;
- Whether claims brought using the OIC are being settled in a timely manner, if timeliness could be improved upon; and if so, how?
- Whether the OIC ensures access to justice for everyone who may seek to make a claim?
- How widely known is the OIC and how are potential claimants made aware of its existence?
- How effective is the OIC portal in settling claims for mixed injury claims, which cannot be settled using the fixed tariff awards?
- Any other issues in relation to the implementation of the whiplash reform programme and operation of the OIC to date.
The deadline for making submissions is Friday 17 March.
Justice committee chair Sir Bob Neill said: “Whiplash injury claims have been costing motorists a disproportionately large amount of money and taking up a lot of precious court time.
“That’s not to minimise the pain and suffering such injuries can cause. But if we can find a way of saving money and court time we should do so.
“So we’ll be looking carefully into the way claims are being processed and how much they cost motorists and the wider tax-paying public. We want justice to prevail, but we want it to be efficient as well.”
Matthew Maxwell Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations, welcomed the inquiry. “It’s a vital opportunity to give Parliament a full picture of the performance of the OIC portal since its launch.
“Select committees play a key role in holding ministers to account, and we hope this delivers the chance for a sober assessment of the government’s whiplash reform programme and its impact on injured people.”
Andrew Wild, head of legal at the law firm First4InjuryClaims, said: “RTA claims have almost halved since 2018 but the promised savings for motorists have yet to materialise – insurance premiums have actually gone up.
“Of those who do pursue a claim via the Official Injury Claim portal, 90% still require legal representation to help them navigate the supposedly simple system they were told they would not need a lawyer for.
“The portal has been so poorly marketed and plagued with issues that motorists could be forgiven for giving up, particularly when the average settlement time currently stands at more than seven months.
“An inquiry into the reforms has to be welcomed but, almost two years in, I hope this is not simply a box-ticking exercise, but rather a meaningful dialogue with lawyers and other stakeholders to genuinely improve a system which promised to provide access to justice but is so far failing miserably.”